Joker – A Spoiler-Free Movie Review

Let’s first talk about what Joker is not.

Joker is not for children.

Joker is not a superhero movie.

Joker is not a super villain movie.

Joker is not funny.

Joker is not part of a shared comic book universe. 

However, Joker is a psychoanalytical movie exploring a mentally ill man who eventually comes to embrace criminality. 

I have not stopped thinking about this movie since seeing it on October 3rd. I honestly can’t remember a movie that left me so disturbed and … unsettled. 

It’s not that Joker is particularly violent–it’s not when compared to most R-rated crime films. It’s more that this movie feels so … real. Joker does not have any kind of a fantasy element. It’s absolutely rooted in reality. We watch this man slowly fall apart in a way that is completely plausible. We watch the world keep kicking him and kicking him and kicking him until he fights back, and he strikes back in a manner that is far too familiar. 

I think this is what has me so conflicted about Joker. He is a killer–that should come as no surprise. He’s not an anti-hero, he’s not a vigilante, he’s an average man who elects to murder people. However, throughout most of the film, he’s victimized by bullies. He’s beaten up by society. He’s shunned by the world. We feel bad for him … until we don’t. This kind of complexity is rarely executed in mainstream Hollywood.

In regards to the acting, Joaquin Phoenix is mesmerizing. I left the theater believing that this man may actually be insane. I don’t mean for that to sound insensitive or flippant, but his portrayal proved thoroughly convincing. His body language, his movement, his voice, his facial expressions, his laughter, the way he seemed to transform once he became “Joker” … it was unreal.

Also, the film looks to take place forty years ago. I felt like I walked into a time machine. The clothes, the cars, the props–it all looked authentic.

Furthermore, the “feel” of the movie cut to my core. This is a cramped, gritty, almost claustrophobic film. It’s literally uncomfortable to watch. It’s not a horror movie, but it certainly isn’t interested in coddling the audience.

People keep asking me if it’s a good movie. I don’t know the answer to that just yet. I’m still processing it. I can tell you that I can’t stop thinking about it. I can tell you that it left me with questions that I can’t stop trying to answer. I can tell you that it provoked me. In my opinion, those are all signs of a “good” movie, yet I can’t claim that I enjoyed Joker. It definitely wasn’t fun. This is not a movie to go see on a date or if you’re just looking to pass some time. This film takes effort to watch. 

On the other hand, though, Joker will certainly change the industry. I’ve never seen anything quite like this, and I believe it will strike a chord with audiences which will result in massive earnings. My hope is that we don’t get cheap knock-offs. I don’t want a Two-Face or Killer Croc movie made in the same style as Joker. I don’t want a sudden deluge of intense, psycho-dramas featuring comic book villains. Joker is a perfect storm created by unique talent. Let’s try not to replicate it. 

Believe it or not, Joker is a complicated movie that elicits complex thoughts. I still don’t know if I like it, I’m still not sure if it’s “good,” but it certainly made an impression upon me.

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The Primary Reason I Love Once Upon a Time In Hollywood So Much (Warning: Major Spoilers)

I saw Once Upon a Time In Hollywood last Thursday night, and I loved it. In fact, I love it more today than I did last Thursday. Now, I love it for lots of different reasons. Brad Pitt is at his ultimate level of charm, Leonardo DiCaprio puts on perhaps his best performance ever, Margot Robbie makes Sharon Tate incredibly likable, and Quentin Tarantino delivers a magnificent story, script, and production. Really, I don’t see how it can get much better than Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.

But, even with all of that being said, none of those are the primary reason I love Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. The real reason I love the movie so much pretty much spoils the entire thing, so I’d like to offer a warning: If you want to see the movie and haven’t yet, please stop reading now. If there’s any chance you might see the movie … stop reading now. You want to be totally fresh for Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, trust me.

Spoilers coming in …

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The film goes to great lengths to intermittently depict Sharon Tate as an affable, kind, identifiable person with little snippets of her simply enjoying life in Hollywood. Tarantino also weaves Charles Manson’s cult in and out of the main story line. However, neither of these two things comprise the majority of the movie. Most of the film is about Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Rick Dalton, trying to work his way back to the top of Hollywood stardom.

As one would expect, though, Manson plays a role. At one point, Manson himself visits the home that Tate shares with Roman Polanski. It’s a harmless scene, yet it fills the viewers with dread because, while none of us know exactly what this film is even about, we all understand it will culminate with Tate’s grisly murder. Furthermore, DiCaprio’s character is neighbors with Tate and Polanski, which makes us believe he will somehow bear witness to the awful slaughter. Manson’s cult continues to contaminate the movie throughout as Brad Pitt’s character eventually befriends one of Manson’s followers. However, it’s not long until Booth realizes his new friend’s friends are up to no good and leaves her behind, but the threat they pose is clearly established.

In other words, the entire movie functions as something of a countdown. No matter what occurs, no matter how much the movie seems to be about Rick Dalton’s quest to renew his fame, we all know it’s really about the impending death of Sharon Tate.

But here’s what I failed to realize before seeing the movie. It’s not called Once Upon a Time In Hollywood because it’s a history lesson. It’s called Once Upon a Time In Hollywood because it’s a fairy tale. And what good is a fairy tale without a happy ending?

Tarantino is not known for happy endings, but Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is about as happy of an ending as you will get from the man.

In this fairy tale, or alternate universe, or revised history, or whatever you want to call it, Manson’s goons decide to kill Rick Dalton before they kill Sharon Tate. When they enter Dalton’s home, though, they encounter Cliff Booth. Cliff is about as tough as they come, and he literally beats them to death. I won’t go into too much detail, but trust me when I say it’s pretty gory.

Consequently, once the audience realizes that Cliff is going to win this battle, the scene, as violent as it is, becomes almost a celebration. The audience begins to understand that the Manson monsters will never make it to Sharon Tate’s home–Sharon will survive!

In this world we currently live in, where it seems like the bad guys are winning at every turn, it proves incredibly cathartic to watch the would-be killers suffer poetic justice.

The last shot of the film, a moment featuring a concerned, amenable Sharon Tate inviting Rick Dalton into her home, left me almost giddy. The movie ends implying that Cliff and Rick’s friendship will never end, Sharon Tate will go on to live a wonderful life, and Rick’s career might just get a jumpstart from Roman Polanski himself.

Even though the putrid odor of burned flesh probably still lingered in the air, in  a Tarantino fairy tale, this is the happiest of endings.

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Once Upon a Time In Hollywood – A (Spoiler-Free) Movie Review

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio proved the biggest draw for me in regards to Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. I can’t remember ever seeing them on screen together even though they are two of Hollywood’s biggest names. I generally like what Quentin Tarantino does with these two men as well, so I figured this movie would be right up my alley.

I honestly didn’t know much about Once Upon a Time In Hollywood going in. Like you, I heard it involved DiCaprio playing an actor with Brad Pitt playing his stunt double. I also saw from the trailers that Margot Robbie played Sharon Tate and that Charles Manson’s cult would be a factor as well.

Now that I’ve seen it, I really don’t want to tell you any more than that. Even the slightest bit of revelation could ruin the whole experience for you, so I’m going to abstain.

I will say this, though. Both Pitt and DiCaprio are fantastic. I love their performances, I love their chemistry, and I love their characters. Margot Robbie didn’t get quite as much screen time as I expected, but she portrays Sharon Tate as the lovely, kind, charismatic person, which, by most accounts, seems true to reality.

The story is sprawling even if, at times, plodding. My friend and I joked that Tarantino could have gotten the running time down to ninety minutes if he cut out all of the driving scenes! However, the truth is, by story’s end, every single moment of the movie is worth it. I feel that this could be Tarantino’s strongest story yet. The plot is strong, the pacing is appropriate, the dialogue is perfect, the characterization is rich, and the climax is astonishing.

Furthermore, I think this is also among Tarantino’s strongest directing efforts. This movie takes place in 1969, and it looks like 1969. It feels like 1969. It sounds like 1969. I felt like I stepped into a time machine. Once I realized just how authentic everything appeared, I started looking for anachronisms. I didn’t see one. Not one, which is amazing. That attention to detail made the movie a blast.

Also, for the most part, this is not a violent movie, nor is it an explicit one. By Tarantino standards, I found it rather tame, even funny at times. Of course, as you would expect, there is some violence at the end, but other than that, there’s not that much blood or language.

About that ending–I promise, no spoilers–I found it deeply moving. It touched me in a way I hadn’t expected.

If you are a Tarantino fan, I would consider this a must view. If you love Brad Pitt and/or Leonardo DiCaprio, this could be their best work yet. If you simply feel like hopping into a time machine and reliving the 1960s, this will be a thrill ride for you as well. In other words, I believe Once Upon a Time In Hollywood has something for everyone.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home – A Movie Review

Spider-Man: Far From Home is an impressive exhibition of visual effects with some great one-liners, but the most interesting thing about the movie happens during the middle and end of the credits.

If you’re not familiar with the plot, Spider-Man: Far From Home sends Peter Parker and his classmates on a European vacation.  While there, Peter is drafted by Nick Fury to help Mysterio defeat monstrous elementals intent on destroying the world.

This movie is simply a run little romp.  It’s not too heavy, it’s not too serious, and it’s not too meaningful … until those end credits.

In fact, I think it’s maybe a little too light.  I understand the need to break away from the cosmic gravitas of Avengers: Endgame, but Far From Home didn’t delve quite deeply enough into the ramifications of that movie.

I say “deeply” because, yes, Far From Home absolutely acknowledges Endgame and goes out of its way not only to catch us up on how those who disappeared are adapting to their return, but how the world is adapting to those who reappeared.  The movie also centers itself around the death of Tony Stark.  (We can talk about that now, right?)

However, all of these things are never deeply explored.  Peter feels like he can’t live up to being Iron Man … and that’s what we get about that for most of the movie.  We are not allowed a deep dive into Peter’s psyche regarding this loss.  It’s all kept very surface-level.  I literally felt the movie pushing forward, forward, forward at a harrowing pace.

I found this shallow treatment of such important events in Peter’s life troubling.

Furthermore, I really do not care for the depiction of Peter Parker’s personality in Far From Home.  I kept track, and he apologized at least four times in a single scene.  They’ve made Parker a little too apologetic, a little too full of doubt, and a little bit of a whiner.  We’re not getting much of Spider-Man’s famous quips in Far From Home.  The movie is funny, but Spider-Man is not.  I think this is the fifth appearance of Spider-Man in the MCU … I believe his confidence should be growing by this point, not weakening.  I have no doubt Spider-Man will eventually become the linchpin of the MCU.  He’ll be the moral compass, the selfless hero, and the intellectual leader years down the road.  However, he should be further along in that journey than what we see here.

Finally, the European setting just didn’t work for me.  Maybe I’m too rigid, but I love my Spider-Man set squarely in New York City.  Peter returns to NY at the end of the movie, and you could just feel the energy boost in the film when that happened.  Something about his red and blue set against the NY skyline–it’s iconic.

On that note, I do admire the movie makers for taking such a risk.  Putting Spider-Man in Europe was a bold move, and not an obvious one.  They are trying to give us things we haven’t seen before, which I appreciate.

Speaking of which, I also appreciate the fact that they had the guts to put Mysterio in this movie.  He’s one of my favorite Spider-Man villains in the comics, and they do him justice in Far From Home.  I’ll be honest, I did not like Jake Gyllenhaal’s depiction of the character in the beginning.  I think Gyllenhaal is a talented, multifaceted actor, so I felt shocked when I found his performance wooden, lifeless, and forced soon after his introduction.  Trust me, that all changes pretty quickly.  Give Mysterio time.  They use a fantastic approach with him and I think Gyllenhaal nails it.  Just like with Vulture, they don’t ignore his comic book roots, but they also add a modern day twist.

Consequently, the special effects are magnificent in Far From Home.  There are some breathtaking scenes of Spider-Man jumping and swinging around, especially at the end of the film.  And, because Mysterio is a master of illusion, they lean heavily into that area and deliver some very cool moments.

You also can’t deny the charisma of Tom Holland and his supporting cast.  Zendaya is a star, Sam Jackson is always a blast, Jon Favreau is lovable even when he’s trying to act gruff, Marisa Tomei is a living legend, Jacob Batalon should be everyone’s best friend, and Tony Revolori somehow plays a jerk we all like.

Is this the best Spider-Man movie that I’ve ever seen?  No, but it’s a fresh approach and tried hard to give us something different.  I love that they are not going after the low-hanging fruit.  It would have been so easy to use Green Goblin or Doctor Octopus again, to have them fight in NYC again, but they fought that urge.  Spider-Man has such a vast array of villains–they should have no trouble finding foes for him if they are willing to go for it like they did with Vulture and Mysterio.

I will say this: after watching the end credits, I cannot wait for the next Spider-Man movie, and I am extremely excited for the next phase of the MCU.  Both end credit scenes truly surprised me.

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Aladdin (2019) – A Movie Review

I’m 42 years old, so I was in high school when the original Aladdin debuted.  I enjoyed it, especially the Robin Williams performance, but I didn’t consider it a masterpiece nor do I to this day.  Fun?  Absolutely?  Great music?  You bet.  A holy artifact that should remain untouched for the rest of time?  No.  Absolutely not.

When I heard they were remaking a “live-action” version of the film, I thought, “Yeah, okay.  That’s pretty consistent with what Disney is doing now.”  When I discovered that they cast Will Smith as the genie … well, I thought that was an odd choice not just for the movie, but for Will Smith himself.

So let’s get the most important thing out of the way right now: my ten-year-old and seven-year-old daughters loved this version.  They’ve seen the original, but they both said that they like this one more.  Will they feel as strongly about it in ten years?  Who knows.  But, this is a kids’ movie made for kids, and both of my kids adored it.  Bam.  Mission successful.

From a more critical view, or maybe I should say from a cynical adult perspective, Aladdin (2019) isn’t perfect.  First of all, it’s about thirty minutes too long.  Two hours and ten minutes is just a bit too much for this genre.  I definitely found myself looking at my watch.  Also, the CGI in the movie is just … weird.  There are times when it doesn’t look good at all, particularly in regards to the genie.  CGI blue Will Smith … never quite looked right.  I know this sound ludicrous, but he always appeared kind of fake … realistically fake.  You know?  They included rippling muscles and pores in the skin, yet he never seemed to be anchored to his surroundings.

However, there is quite a bit to like about this movie.  First of all, no one can deny Will Smith’s movie stardom.  He’s always fun to watch.  Will Smith gets to be regular human Will Smith for quite a bit of the movie, and that’s when he really shined.  Also, Mena Massoud, who plays Aladdin, has undeniable charisma.  His eyes and smile light up the screen every time he appears, and he also has a really interesting speaking voice.  Finally, though she doesn’t have the magnetism of her costar, Naomi Scott (Jasmine) has a fantastic voice.  When she sings–watch out!  This actress has one of those voices that just grabs you.  I actually wish they’d given her several more musical numbers.

I feel totally comfortable recommending this as a family movie.  If you all want to go out together and enjoy a fun time, Aladdin (2019) is a fine choice.  The kids will enjoy it, the parents will find things to like about it, and then everyone will forget about it by the next day, and that’s okay.

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The New Joker Trailer Proved Me Wrong

Did you know they are making a standalone Joker movie?

Truthfully, when I first heard about this film, it sparked not one bit of interest from me for a number of reasons.

Firstly, I believe the Joker is one of those characters that exists best on the fringes.  The less we know about him, the better.  The Dark Knight nailed his character by telling us virtually nothing about him.  To devote an entire movie to his origin, I thought, would weaken his character and provide too little content.

Secondly, I’m one of the few people who really enjoyed Jared Leto’s take on the Joker.  I’m not yet ready to cast that Joker aside in favor of this new one.  I appreciated Leto’s Joker because it was both classic and unique at the same time.  I’ve never encountered a Joker quite like that, yet his look struck me as comfortably familiar as well.  The contradictory interpretation suited Joker nicely.

Furthermore, I heard rumors that this Joker would not connect to any of the other DC movies and would, for all intents and purposes, be a standalone in an alternate reality.  Now listen, I’m a fan of the DC Multiverse.  I’ve often said that Warner Brothers needs to lean into this concept and really play up the Earth 1, Earth 2, etc. concept.  Fans would easily be able to grasp it.  However, the initial description of the movie didn’t sound like the Joker at all.  For example, they gave him a name, Arthur Fleck, and placed him in the 1980s.  Worst of all, it was said he would just be a failed comedian who loses his mind and dons the makeup.  No mention of Batman.  It’s been argued that Batman is the driving motivator of Joker’s mayhem, especially because it was partly Batman’s fault that the Joker fell into the vat of chemicals resulting in his madness.

All of these things deterred me from thinking I would like this movie.

And then, this morning, the first trailer dropped.  If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look …

I was wrong.

Totally.

Utterly.

Completely.

Wrong.

They are doing everything it takes to completely win over my interest, and that’s by giving me the totally unexpected.  I did not anticipate the unsettling tone regarding Fleck’s descent into madness.  And though I knew Joaquin Phoenix could act, I did not think he’d deliver such a disturbed character.  I could not predict changing the Joker’s “look,” though ever so subtly,  would render him even more terrifying.  They have captured something with Joker, something profoundly … creepy.

This trailer validates taking the film into a remote part of the DC Universe.  While you could argue the fact that this movie doesn’t even have to be the Joker, it could be any clown-based criminal, the fact that it is an iteration of the classic villain makes it all the more ominous.

After all, we know just how awful the Joker really is.  We know that this Fleck character is destined to become one of the most evil fictional villains in pop culture.  Watching him get beaten up and kicked by life time after time after time in the trailer’s short time span really strikes a nerve because we know that many of our mass murderers were similarly bullied in life.

Which leads me to my only real concern about Joker.  Because it’s so clearly detached from the other DC movies, I don’t mind the thorough exploration of his origin.  I actually think it’s totally appropriate to display every single life-altering tragedy that drives a man into criminal insanity in this context.  However, I am worried that they are going to make him sympathetic or even an anti-hero.  I don’t want to feel bad for the Joker, and I say this because he is so heinous.  Mind you, I’m generally not against villains being sympathetic.  But Joker?  No, we can never feel sad for the Joker.  (Of course, Joker has proven me wrong in every other facet, so it will probably do so again in this case as well.)

Joker seems to have tapped into something very special.  It’s unafraid, primal treatment of such a visceral character appears to be creating a film full of raw, unflinching emotion.  I know it certainly struck a nerve with me.  What do you think?  Let me know in the comments.

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Triple Frontier – A Movie Review

Triple Frontier is an action-packed film that kept me both anxious and very entertained.

The premise is that Oscar Isaac’s character is working as a security contractor who trains foreign armies and police.  He’s been after a particular drug lord for quite a while, but can never quite pin him down.  Ben Affleck, Charlie Hunnam, Garrett Hedlund, and Pedro Pascal play men who once belonged to Isaac’s unit, a band of brothers.  They are all retired from the military, and they are all down on their luck with little to show for their service.

Isaac’s character propositions them to help  him take down this drug lord by amassing intelligence regarding his stronghold.  They can each make a large sum of money doing so.  What is initially supposed to be a simple recon mission turns into a flat-out burglary.  From there, the unit must try to escape the drug lord’s men through the jungles of Columbia, through Peru, and over the Andes Mountains while carrying very, very large amounts of cash.

While Triple Frontier kept me on the edge of my seat throughout due to action and an ever-present danger, I also thought it said something provocative about soldiers who give everything to their country with nothing to show for it.  Who can blame these warriors for taking desperate actions to try to help their families, their friends, and even themselves?  The ethical dilemmas presented in this movie will make quite an impact, I assure you.

Furthermore, I found the locations beautiful and lush.  Most of the film was shot in Hawaii and Colombia, so these jungles and mountains are authentic.  The scope of the film is magnificent with some truly breathtaking scenes.

Best of all, though, was the cast.  I actually felt like these men had a bond between them.  Affleck, Hedlund, and Hunnam were fine, but Pascal and Isaac were the heart and soul of this movie.  Oscar Isaac gets better with every movie I see him in, and Triple Frontier is no exception.

Though very violent and laden with profanities, Triple Frontier kept me engaged and entertained from start to finish.  If you’re looking for an action movie with some authentic emotional beats, this one won’t disappoint.

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